The President’s political advisers say that even if the war and the economy are going very badly for the President in 1972——which, they quickly add, will not be the case— and even if the President comes under serious challenge within his own party, he will not, as they put it, “pull a Johnson” by withdrawing. He has a long history of coming from behind, they say, and of confronting adversities, and it would be in his nature to hang in there and fight.
He might have to do just that. The stated intention of Representative Paul McCloskey of California to challenge the President in the Republican primaries is serious. McCloskey says that he would run only if one of a number of other Republicans does not challenge the President: John Gardner, John Lindsay, or Senators Charles Mathias (Maryland), Charles Percy (Illinois), or Mark Hatfield (Oregon). McCloskey believes that Hatfield is the most likely of these to make the race. Yet McCloskey himself would be a formidable candidate, perhaps the most formidable of all. He looks uncannily like a black-haired John Kennedy. His style is low-key and straight, of the sort that so many people, weary of canned and cautious politicians, find appealing. In interviews. McCloskey scratches his nose, pulls on his ear, mumbles into his tie, and says things that other politicians would not dream of being heard to say.
He will remark, on television, that young people and blacks are “turning away from the [Republican] Party in wholesale lots today because they just can’t buy John Mitchell, they can’t buy Mr. Agnew, and they can’t buy the President’s leadership in Vietnam.” The few other Republican politicians who would make such a statement at all would hide behind the anonymity of a “not-for-attribution” quote. He will talk about the conflicts between being in politics and behaving according to one’s convictions. He is “not very proud,” he says, of having endorsed George Murphy, “one of the great hawks on Vietnam,” in the 1970 race for the Senate in California. “You see all of these pressures working on you all the time: stay quiet when you should speak out, vote this way because that will keep somebody from running against you next time. This kind of pressure on a politician gradually causes all of us to be less capable of leadership, less capable of inspiring the people to do the right thing in the country. I don’t know; I think maybe a man shouldn’t stay in politics very long.”
“We’re always winning”
If McCloskey goes to New Hampshire in 1972, the issue will be the President’s policy in Indochina. He will try to make the case that American bombing during and presumably after the withdrawal of ground troops is both immoral and ineffectual. “We’re out of date with an air war against the villages,” he says. “That’s not how to win the hearts and minds of man. If I were a Vietnamese patriot. I think I’d be against this thing that brought about the devastation and prostitution and supports a government that folds newspapers that criticize and puts opponents in jail. If the strength of America is idealism, I don’t think this meets the test.”
He will try to show the Administration wrong in its calculation that American bombing in Indochina, and a war fought by others but supported by us, are acceptable to the public if ground troops are withdrawn. McCloskey believes that “you now have a moral distaste for this war on the part of the people. There is no young person in America who would believe Nixon. He has achieved the image of deceit—he has earned it. He overstates to make his case. He never admits a mistake. We’re always winning.”
McCloskey’s open opposition follows his own private attempts to change the heart and mind of President Nixon. In 1969 and 1970, he wrote Mr. Nixon four letters, but received no reply. Following are some of his messages:
Dear Mr. President:
Shortly after you took office, I wrote you a letter suggesting that the former Administration’s Viet Nam policy was mistaken and that it might be well to admit our past mistakes.
You apparently never saw the letter. I would like to again respectfully suggest that you consider the possibility of admitting that America and its presidents are capable of making mistakes and have done so.
A national war policy requires three things: military strength, the willingness of our people to pay the cost, and the willingness of our young men to fight. Is it not apparent to you that we have lost the latter two? . . .
Dear Mr. President:
Most Americans have just enjoyed a bountiful Thanksgiving and we now look forward in a few weeks to a national exchange of gifts and good wishes at Christmas time.
All of this seems a little hollow, however, when we reflect on the fact that we have just completed seven straight weeks of daily bombing of Laos, and that American troops and firepower are continuing to kill people in Cambodia, Laos, and Viet Nam. ... If we cannot end the conflict, we can at least end American participation in a type of warfare which is inconsistent with our national goals, and our leadership in the cause of peace.
There are too many good things to do for others in this world of the 1970’s for the world’s most powerful western nation to be setting an example of leadership in the art of destroying Asian people and villages. . . .
Dear Mr. President:
. . . I might add the thought that that aspect of “ Vietnamization" which you presently espouse, the substitution of aerial firepower for infantry support, is not consistent with American idealism. If we are unwilling to ourselves die in a cause, we should not seek to substitute our impersonal bombs, napalm, and massive rapid-fire aerial gunfire for combat troops. . . . Our firepower and defoliation provide ample visible proof for the communist argument that Americans are indiscriminate in destroying people and property by the use of our advanced technology. . . .
McCloskey is impatient with the inevitable questions about what percentage of the vote he thinks he would get, or what he thinks he really might achieve. Such calculations go against his nature. “People spend 90 percent of their time speculating about what will happen instead of doing things and saying things that will cause things to happen. If you worry about whether you’ll win or lose, you lose the pleasure of making the fight.” Washington political observers and writers spend a good bit of time pondering what they presume to be the many-leveled reasons behind governmental and political actions. Many of them, however, are the result of accident, or instinct. McCloskey is simply a thoughtful, gutsy man instinctively drawn to challenge. He was an unknown in his first political race, a special congressional primary in 1967, but he defeated Shirley Temple Black and nine other candidates, and won the final election to Congress in December of that year. In 1969, he was one of six House Republicans to propose that Congress repeal the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and fifteen Republicans proposed that the six be censured. A year and a half later, after the Cambodian invasion, the Tonkin Resolution was repealed. In any event, McCloskey and some of his colleagues would be satisfied if the primary challenge, or threat of it, sufficed to change the President’s policy, or even to bring about significant debate of it. McCloskey does not like to entertain the suggestion that if Nixon were to be unhorsed, the Republican Party, in its 1972 convention assembled, might turn to Ronald Reagan. “If I thought that was a chance,” he says, “I’d fold my tent and dig a hole and pull it in after me.”
McCloskey seems to be onto something. He now receives about one thousand letters a day; he has had offers of money and of volunteer help in various states; his office phones are constantly busy; the national press has discovered him. Moreover, other Republican moderates say that the President’s position within the party has eroded in the past few months.
One Republican senator reports that while less than a year ago he received pressure from party circles back home to support the President, now he is questioned when he does. “When I was in my state last year,”he says, “I was getting a lot of ‘Why aren’t you supporting Dick Nixon more?' talk. There was enthusiasm for him then. Now there is a lot of questioning of his positions, and of whether we can make it in 1972. The whole thing has reversed itself. One party leader says we might have trouble carrying nine of the ten industrial states. I don’t think there is any question about that. I think the fellow is in real trouble.”
The President’s assistants, at least in talking with outsiders, profess no worries. The preferred situation, of course, would be one in which there was no primary challenge. But one of the White House men suggests that a challenge could be turned to an advantage, with the President graciously welcoming public debate of the issues, and then clobbering his opponent at the polls. The President would not be in trouble, this rationale goes, unless the challenger received at least 30 percent of the vote. But even in this case, “trouble" defies any conventional description. If the President wants the nomination, he can have it. And people who voted against him in the primary, one White House man argues, will have gotten it out of their systems.
That’s one way of looking at it. When actually faced with a challenge, Richard Nixon, being as human a being as the next man, and given to campaigning at high pitch, might not be the picture of grace. He might even appear panicky, at bay. As several politicians have learned, incumbency is an increasingly uneasy perch. It could be truer for Nixon than it was for Johnson. Nixon won with only 313,000 more votes than Humphrey received in 1968, and 43 percent of the vote. The Republican Party is a minority party. The percentage of independent voters is growing. They are already more than one quarter of the electorate, almost equal in proportion to Republicans. There is, in effect, an invisible third party, and it is the one that will decide the next election.
The White House men who echo the President’s claim that the war is “winding down" and that he is securing a “generation of peace" assume that the economy is the greatest source of trouble for them in the next election. One of the President’s advisers argues that whatever one might say about the drawbacks of the lawand-order campaign of 1970, it took people’s minds off the economic issue, which could have been still more damaging for the Republicans. The Democrats, he argues, were so busy putting flags in their lapels that they did not make as much as they might have of the nation’s economic troubles. Whether the instrument for such legerdemain will be available in 1972 remains to be seen.
The fairly open warfare among the President’s economic advisers on how to proceed is made too much of, says a White House man. Both George Shultz, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Arthur Burns, chairman of what is always referred to as the “independent Federal Reserve Board,”are for Richard Nixon, in this view. The differences between them, and among other Administration economists, over the proper mix of fiscal and monetary policy are not all that great, the President’s staffman argues.
But they are there. Partly these attitudes arise from philosophical—almost theological—differences, partly from institutional biases. Put simply, George Shultz would like Arthur Burns to do more about expanding the supply of money; Arthur Burns would like George Shultz to relax his opposition to some form of wage and price controls. Both, in other words, would like help. Shultz’s position derives from a genuine philosophical conservatism. He could agree to the President’s suspension of the DavisBacon Act, requiring the government to pay the highest wages for its construction projects, because Davis-Bacon could be regarded as a form of interference with the free market. (For the same reason, he could recommend a change in the oil import quota system—a recommendation not followed by the President.) But he is deeply opposed to wage and price controls.
When the President suspended the Davis-Bacon Act instead of freezing all construction costs, he struck a compromise that netted still more problems. Economists do not expect the action to have a substantial impact on the economy, and the construction workers are furious. That particular law has almost religious significance for them. As it happens, according to very reliable witnesses, construction labor and management were ready to accept a temporary freeze on wages and prices, as they had several times in the past. The scenario had been worked out: the President would call the union leaders in and lecture them on the necessity of a wage freeze; they would grudgingly comply. But the President failed to follow the script. He met— flag in lapel—with the union chiefs, recalled how they had been with him in the tough, lonely days of the invasion into Cambodia last year. Then he sent them off without a wage freeze.
He would not impose it, it was later explained, unless the union leaders publicly said they would accept it, and this was more than they could do. “Nobody ever lost an election because of inflation,”said a President’s man, reaching for historical solace. “The issue is unemployment, and we’ll have that licked.”
Gifts for the Greeks
Not long ago, two staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went to Greece to examine American policy there. Both of them, James Lowenstein and Richard Moose, are former Foreign Service Officers; Moose once served on the White House staff of Henry Kissinger. After they returned from Greece, they wrote a report which demonstrated as much about the American government’s capacity for self-delusion in the making of foreign policy as about the policy itself. In this case, and it is not atypical, the delusions begin within the American Embassy in Athens, from where they are transmitted to the State Department in Washington, which relays them to the public.
During the supposed embargo on American arms aid following the 1967 coup by the Greek colonels, for example, “Greece received even larger amounts of military assistance . . . than in the equivalent period before the embargo was imposed.” The Nixon Administration lifted the “embargo" in 1970 because, our government announced, “the trend toward a constitutional order is established . . . . Major sections of the constitution have been implemented . . . . The government of Greece has stated that it intends to establish parliamentary democracy. . .”
The theories behind all this have been that the “absence” of arms aid would pressure the regime to restore constitutionality, and then that the resumption of aid would, too. In fact, neither has been the case. One could debate at length how much the United States should try to affect the policy of any other country, or to what extent it would be able to if it so desired. But those are different matters from publicly embracing a dictatorship, arming it to the teeth, and announcing that in so doing we have brought about the restoration of democracy. “Certainly,” the staff report said, “the general attitude of the Embassy is defense about the regime—quick to praise during the period before the embargo was lifted but slow to criticize now that the embargo has been ended and the regime is in default on its assurances. Many in the Embassy tend to rationalize the actions of the regime in terms similar to those the regime itself uses.”
In January, the State Department issued a paper on “Greece; U.S. Policy,”which, according to the staff report, “makes a number of statements that do not seem to be accurate.” The Department announced that “with minor exceptions, all institutional laws necessary to put into force the constitution were promulgated by the end of 1970 as pledged by the Greek Government.” The “minor exceptions” covered such matters as the state of siege, political parties, parliament, and the constitutional court. Moreover, elections have not been scheduled, and martial law is still in effect.
“The policy of friendly persuasion,” the staff concluded, “has clearly failed. The regime has accepted the friendship, and the military assistance, but has ignored the persuasion. Indeed, the regime seems to have been able to exert more leverage on us with regard to military assistance than we have been willing to exert on the regime with regard to political reform. We see no evidence that this will not continue to be the case.”